Why pay attention to positive emotions?

Why bother with paying attention to your positive emotions?


Most of us like to feel happy, proud, grateful, calm and excited. For many, these feelings are a big reason why we do what we do - buying things, creating something, or behaving in a certain way - so that we can feel these or some other pleasant emotions. It seems logical right? Actually, it would be quite confusing or even slightly sadistic if it were otherwise. So here’s the news: there are more advantages to feeling these emotions than simply feeling “good”.

Research from the field of positive psychology, and in particular Barbara Fredrickson, has shown that “positive” emotions such as feeling loving, curious, joyful and so on, have what is referred to as the “Broaden and Build effect”. This means that the positive feelings we experience in a sense “broaden” our view, open us up to see more, to be able to learn better, to remember things faster and more accurately and even to be more creative. You can think of these as the short-term benefits of the positive emotions.

Beyond that, Fredricksons’ research also shows that “positive” emotions “build” our reserves for when times are tough and to help us develop our personal resources. These reserves might include a support network of family or friends or the ability to keep moving towards our goals when there are extended times of difficulty (like when you have just lost someone dear to you or are going through a difficult change). Positive emotions that we experience also help to deal with stress down the line, can reduce pain and have even shown to increase our lifespan. Talk about long-term perks of feeling positive emotions.

From this perspective, we can see that it puts positive emotions on a whole other level of desirability. Essentially, emotions that feel “good” support us to be the best versions of ourselves - on intellectual, social and physical levels and to continue striving towards our goals even when times are tough. So it’s not a coincidence that we want to feel “positive emotions” and it’s also not egotistical or an unimportant thing that we indulge in. It can even be considered as a key element to how we make the most out of us as individuals, our lives and also how we contribute to the world. (Note: it is also possible to have too many positive emotions and they can be linked to arrogance, addiction and being complacent, so we don’t want to go overboard either.)

Consider this, if we had a bucket of our personal reserves, “positive emotions” would help to fill up this bucket and when “negative emotions” come around (and they always will) they would take a scoop out of our bucket. When the bucket is full having a part of it removed might not feel so dramatic. But if our bucket is almost empty and the last scoop is taken from it, it can feel very uncomfortable.

The key is to pay attention to all of our feelings and to actively work on having more pleasant emotions (because studies show that most of us are a bit low on these, relative to the stress and demands in our lives). At the same time we don’t want to deny our negative emotions when they come around, because they too have an important role to play in our lives.

Remember, we are in charge of filling our bucket, which will ultimately contribute to us broadening and building our lives so that we can make the most out of it. But don't just focus on the positive feelings, it is very valuable to pay attention to all of your emotions - feel them, accept them, name them and understand them. They are all there for a good reason.

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